Sunday, March 27, 2011

A feature suggestion for Wikipedia or Facebook: Social Wikipedia, or wikipedia with Subjects

This is not a new idea. Three years ago, I was considering to leave my CTO position in for creating a new start up around a new idea of social content creation. This posting will describe a revision of those original intuitions.

I am a big fan of Wikipedia, which is, in my opinion, the natural complement of Web search. In Wikipedia, hundreds of thousands of editors contribute to create content organized in millions of different encyclopaedic voices which are available in multiple languages. The key strength of Wikipedia is that anyone can start creating content but this content will be continuously revised by other editors. As a consequence, this never ending process guarantees very high quality. Indeed, On 14 December 2005, the scientific journal Nature reported that, within 42 randomly selected general science articles, there were 162 mistakes in Wikipedia versus 123 in Britannica.

My idea was to give a clear identity to the editors, associate an explicit profile and an explicit network of relations, so that it would have been possible to identify experts around different topics in a clear and direct way.

Adopting a more recent jargon introduced in my recent posting "from objects to subjects", I can describe the idea in a more synthetic way.  Encyclopaedic voices in Wikipedia are a particular type of objects and the editors are the subjects who are creating, editing and discussing those objects. It should be possible to rank those subjects, match on the fly different subjects according to the objects they annotate, identify expertise in subjects and so on and so forth.

You may wonder what was the reason why I decided to not create a new startup. Well, while I was considering the idea Google announced Knol, which is probably one of the less successful initiative started by Google because Wikipedia was already very strong and there was no idea of Social graph at that time.

Anyway, three years ago was probably too early but now it could be the right time to have a Social Wikipedia == Social Graph + Wikipedia.

What do you think?


  1. Not sure I understand the comparisons with Wikipedia. The idea of combining a social network with experts seems much closer to Quora or Facebook Q&A than Wikipedia.

    Could you clarify? Why is this not Quora and in what way is it more of a social Wikipedia than social Q&A?

  2. No this is not about Q&A and Social Q&A, like Quora.

    This is about creating an encyclopedia, very similar to Wikipedia (or Knol) but with well-known editors taken from social graph. Today would be Facebook + Wikipedia

  3. Well, then, it's not really clear to me the problem you are trying to solve. You want to add a social graph to Wikipedia? Why? To increase reputation effects and improve accountability? Again, why? As you said, the quality on Wikipedia is already quite high. What are you trying to gain specifically that Wikipedia does not already have?

    Is it that you want people to be able to ask questions that are not answered yet of expert editors in Wikipedia? In that case, aren't you talking about a Q&A site again?

    Sorry, but I'm still rather confused about what the goal is. Or even what the problem to be solved might be. Can you clarify?

  4. My intuition is that if i know the editors and I can explicitly stack rank them, then I can possibly put them in touch with the readers. So the editors can provide their expertise to the readers, and a new knowledge market can start.

  5. Sounds good. So, this is really a blend of Wikipedia and Q&A. Experts are identified by a combination of the pages they edit and their reputation (how well their edits stick, their social network, etc.). Then, in addition to editing the Wikipedia-like pages, people can ask questions of the experts.

    Seems like you might even be able to build this on top or beside the existing Wikipedia, though, hence my confusion about whether the Wikipedia part is necessary and if this is really more of a Q&A site.

    For example, what if you built a Quora-like Q&A site with a small, expert audience (which is a big part of the reason for Quora's success), but choose who is an expert and what they are an expert of based on contributions on other sites, such as edits on Wikipedia, citation analysis of academic articles (and maybe other articles), answers on Stack Overflow and Quora, content and links on LinkedIn, etc.? Seems like that gets very close to what you are talking about, no?

  6. My idea arrived before Quora. Anyway, I see differences. Quora is about Questions (and in general about one single answer). An encyclopedia is organized around topics which are more general and omnicomprehensive

  7. Your idea does seem like a good idea.

    On a related note, I was reading an upcoming CHI paper on the reason for success of Stack Overflow

    Worth a read. In the end, there is still a question of whether Stack Overflow was so successful because of the niche it picked or because it still has a relatively small number of users, but definitely useful.